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A Christmas miracle

I’ve seen a lot of pain as of late. Being a pastor, this certainly isn’t unusual; I hear a lot of people’s struggles. But it seems like this Christmas season has been accompanied by more than its fair share of pain. It’s the families whose lives are thrown into chaos by terminal cancer.
It’s the man who can’t bear the shame of his past life. It’s the emptiness of the recently divorced couple spending their first Christmas apart. It’s the family who nurses old wounds and harbors deep grudges. It’s the 80-year-old woman who is coming to grips with the reality that there are some things she’ll never be able to do again. What hope is there to give these people? I’ve thought more than once that if we ever needed a Christmas miracle, it would be now.
Yes, a Christmas miracle would be nice, perhaps something like George Bailey’s or maybe a miracle like the one in Miracle on 34th Street. There’s a hopeful optimism that Christmas always brings. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if your aunt’s cancer instantly disappeared? Or wouldn’t it be a miracle if your estranged son appeared on your doorstep Christmas Eve? Wouldn’t it be a miracle if some anonymous donor came and paid off all your credit cards?
But when it comes to the celebration of Christ’s birth, it might seem like God’s idea of a Christmas miracle and our idea of a Christmas miracle have absolutely nothing in common. God’s idea of a Christmas miracle seems to be frightening shepherds with an army of angels, leading a couple of stargazers across the desert with wildly extravagant gifts, and a little Jewish baby in a feeding trough who just happens to be the second person of the Trinity. Sure, the whole thing seems rather miraculous (especially the bit about the Son of God becoming man), but what kind of Christmas miracle is this?
What I mean is, shouldn’t Jesus be able to work other kinds of Christmas miracles? Shouldn’t Dec. 25 cure my aunt? (She really does have cancer, by the way.) Shouldn’t Jesus’ birth smooth things over with my sister-in-law and put presents under the tree and bring everyone home for Christmas? Shouldn’t Christmas bring peace to our families and joy to our hearts and set everything right again? After all, if Jesus can’t set things right, then what good is he?
If we want him to set everything right again, we should probably take a step back and first ask what’s truly wrong. Well, what isn’t wrong? Broken families, homelessness, heart failure, governmental corruption, natural disasters, breakdown of communities, human wastefulness, neglect of the elderly and the list could fill the rest of this paper. Tragic as all these things might be, they don’t actually get to the heart of the matter. Cancer and family strife and loneliness and all the other pain in this world are still symptoms of the deeper problem. We live an existence that is a distortion of God’s original design. We weren’t supposed to be lonely or fight with one another or suffer tragedy or even die. But Genesis chapter three provides the clear and unnerving diagnosis: our world is cursed because we chose to disobey the Lord. We ignored God’s instruction and took from the tree. (Sure, I know you weren’t technically there, but read Romans 5 and you’ll see what I mean.) So a curse fell on all creation, and things haven’t been right since.
Now, if we believe that the curse over creation is truly what’s wrong, then that also tells us what it means for Jesus to set things right. It means that the Christ child didn’t come to immediately address all our symptoms (although he treated plenty of symptoms during his earthly ministry). Jesus’ birth is not guaranteed to cure cancer or bring families together or to give you a new job. It’s not to say that Jesus can’t provide those, but that’s not the immediate promise of Christmas. Jesus was born to un-curse the world and bear the consequence of our rebellion on himself. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13) The true Christmas miracle is that Jesus came to strike the root of humanity’s problem – sin. The birth of Jesus brings hope to us because he didn’t come with a Band-Aid; he came with the medicine of new life.
But Christ’s birth is a miracle that is grasped by faith and not by sight. Dec. 25 has come and gone many times, and we are still struggling with the symptoms of a cursed world. We’re still stuck with health problems and strained families and all the pain of life. But have hope, the Christ child came to remove the curse, and eventually the symptoms will follow. We will not always be plagued with pain. When Christ comes the second time, he comes to complete what he began. On that day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) And that is a Christmas miracle if there ever was one.

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